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Review: Olympus Pen E-P5

by Chris Gampat on 08/07/2013

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus EP5 product images (1 of 5)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 4.0

When we first were briefed on the Olympus EP5, we were quite impressed not only with its feature set but also its build quality. And for the past couple of weeks, we’ve been testing the camera during our daily routines. Olympus states that this camera has the same 16MP imaging sensor as the Olympus OMD EM5. But it also packs other crazy features such as 9fps shooting, focus peaking, Live View preview when in Bulb mode, interval shooting for time lapsers, and WiFi. In some ways, it outdoes its bigger brother, the OMD except in one critical feature: weather sealing.

But is that enough to make you not want to spring for the best Pen camera yet?


Pros and Cons

Pros

- The build quality is unparalleled. In some ways it feels tougher than the OMD.

- Focus peaking

- Very fast to focus

- Excellent high ISO output

- Fast flash sync speed to 1/320th

- Simple to use for most folks

Cons

- No weather sealing

- We really wish there was a built in EVF

Gear Used

We used the EP5 with the 17mm f1.8 and the brand new VF-4 viewfinder. We also tested it with the Voigtlander 17.5mm f0.95, Pocket Wizard Plus III triggers, and the Westcott Ice Light.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo listing of the product

  • 16.1MP Live MOS Sensor
  • TruePic VI Image Processor
  • 3.0″ Tilt Touchscreen LCD
  • Full HD 1080p Video in MOV & AVI Formats
  • Built-In Wi-Fi Connectivity
  • 5 Axis Image Stabilization with IS Auto
  • Fast AF with Touch Focus & Touch Shutter
  • 9 FPS Burst Shooting; 1/8000s Shutter
  • Built-In Flash with Wireless Capability
  • Optional VF-4 Electronic Viewfinder

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus EP5 product images (5 of 5)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 4.0

The Olympus EP5 was modelled even more so after the original classic Pen camera specifically to pay homage to it. And one can tell this not only from its looks but also from its build quality. The modern day camera is not an SLR though–sticking with the iteration of all of Olympus’s Pen cameras, it is a Micro Four Thirds camera and has all the characteristics of a retro modern camera.

With that said, Olympus decided to keep only one grip on the camera instead of making them interchangeable. One of the reasons is for the router built in for Wifi transferring. Plus there is a lens depression button and an aperture control dial on the front.

Otherwise, you’ll only see the AF assist bulb and the Pens logo. The body not only has a brushed metal feel to it but also a faux leatherette type of look as well.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus EP5 product images (2 of 5)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 4.0

The top of the camera is characterized by the hot shoe, pop up flash, mode dial, shutter release, on/off switch, Fn button, and two exposure control dials. Indeed, a lot of thought was put into making this camera appeal to a higher end user.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus EP5 product images (3 of 5)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 4.0

And with that statement in mind, users will note the tilting LCD screen. It is almost the same as its bigger brother’s, the Olympus OMD EM5.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Olympus EP5 product images (4 of 5)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 4.0

And on the back of the camera, you’ll find lots of controls and dials all over. Besides the pop-up flash control on the top left, you’ll see that most of the controls are on the right hand side. You’ll find the movie record button along with a two way selector programmable switch, magnification, info, menu, playback, trash, and four way control button. No longer is this button a dial, but instead a spongy feeling control selector.

However, note that this is a touchscreen and so you can also control lots of the settings from there.

Build Quality

The EP5 feels totally solid in the hand, and Olympus told us that this is because of the fact that there are very few screws used in the design. When you hold it, it feels just like an old time metal SLR or rangefinder, and you just want to hold it all the time.

Everything feels nice about this camera: the aperture and shutter dials, the LCD screen, the back buttons, it all feels exceptional. Our only minor caveat is the four way back button which feels a tad too spongy for us, but that’s a minor quibble.

Ease of Use

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To see just how simple this camera was to use, I passed it around my NYC Reddit meetup group. While many of us are tech savvy 20 somethings, not everyone knows everything about photography. But when putting the camera into aperture priority, people found it very simple to use. Plus if it wasn’t focusing on something that they wanted, they simply used the touch screen to do it.

Olympus also did an excellent job by making a prime lens the kit: not a single person complained or asked, “How do you zoom?” The 34mm equivalent is an great choice, and by far is one of my favorite focal lengths.

When it comes to the more advanced user though, this camera is extremely simple to use sans the menus. Olympus’s menus are intimidating for most folks, but by pressing the Info button you can get more of an idea what each function does. If you’re a long exposure/bulb shooter, we would recommend experimenting because the explanations aren’t so great.

For what it’s worth though, we need to recommend only the fastest of SD cards to be used with timelapse mode. It makes things significantly faster and smoother.

Our other problem has to do with the timelapse mode. It only allows you to shoot 99 images–but it will surely stitch them together. That’s not very useful for most folks, but it sure is nice that it stitches them together into a movie.

Otherwise, if you’re into long exposure photography, also note that the camera can show you a live display of how you image is shaping up in Bulb mode. Not only will it show you the image on the screen but it will also show you the histogram. If anything, that is one of the coolest features that we’ve seen on a camera to date.

Then there is the WiFi transmission. Setting it up is really quite simple to do, but for what it’s worth we found Panasonic’s, Samsung’s, and Sony’s routes much simpler, faster and straightforward to use.

Autofocus

Olympus once again has the fastest autofocusing system in the world and nothing can beat them. This is best done with the MSC lenses, but there are certain lenses that the EP5 can focus significantly faster with as well. Overall, we didn’t see a tremendous autofocusing speed advantage of the Olympus OMD EM5, but instead a very slight one.

A glitch that we encountered while trying to use focus peaking involves some of the Olympus lenses with the pump action manual focusing. When peaking is enabled and one pulls the focusing ring back to manually focus, peaking will not be enabled. Instead, you’ll need to go into the menu and set it to manual focusing. Then peaking will actually start to work.

Another problem that we saw is that peaking didn’t work with non-coupled lenses: such as my trusty Voigtlander 17.5mm F0.95.

Obviously focusing by using the touch screen is the absolute fastest way of nailing a subject, but using the shutter button isn’t so slow either.

Editor’s Note: Thanks for the emails and Facebook comments. We figured out how to make peaking work with my Voigtlander lens.

Metering

The way we test a camera’s metering is through basic Sunny 16 standards. In our analysis, we found that this camera typically underexposed by a stop if this methodology is used. To verify it, we also used a handheld light meter for a scene and ended up with the same results.

In real life use, you’ll probably be working with a slower shutter speed than you’d typically like it in order to get a perfectly exposed image.

Image Quality

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

When we first got this camera in for review, we were told that the sensor is the same as the one in the Olympus OMD EM5. However, DxO Mark has found slightly different results with it reporting that the OMD EM5 doesn’t have as good of a high ISO performance. In a real life situations (which means that we weren’t pixel peeping in at 1,000%) we didn’t see any stark differences. If anything, it really just had to do with the noise structure–and in that case the EP5 looks more film-like.

Overall though, one really can’t complain about the image quality from this camera. Olympus’s colors are absolutely wonderful as always with only Fujifilm trailing ahead.

High ISO Images

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ISO-25,600

This image had no noise processing applied to it–just color grading. We didn’t find that editing the image for colors created any extraneous noise worth mentioning. However, even though there is noise for sure, the image is still really pleasing in quality. As stated before, the image noise at the higher ISOS are very film-like.

At this point in the technological scale though, I think that we all have to admit that nearly every sensor from a reputable camera company can produce an image that is more than excellent at higher ISO settings. And if not, then it can easily be manipulated to do so in Lightroom.

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ISO 25,600

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Raw File Versatility

Original

Original

Edited RAW file

Edited RAW file

We will surely tell you that these raw files are capable of doing much more than what you see above–especially in the shadows. The highlights can go for around half a stop more until they start clipping into the gray area. As far as colors go, they are also more scalable–but not tremendously more than the sensor in the OMD EM5.

Extra Image Samples

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Conclusions

Olympus’s EP5 is their best Pen camera yet. Not only is the build quality something to sit there and drool over, but the image quality, autofocusing, and feature set are all really quite awesome as well. Indeed, it is an extremely versatile camera that can tackle most any situation you throw at it. Need to shoot something in very low light to point of cranking your ISO settings into the nuclear levels? Go for it. Need to capture your kid running around the yard like a maniac? This camera can autofocus fast enough to do so.

But in the end, the camera’s biggest pitfall is in the fact that it doesn’t have a built-in viewfinder. Sure, Olympus gives you the VF-4 with it if you choose the bundle. And the VF-4 is spectacular and wonderful–but Panasonic has just come out with the GX7 not too long ago from our publishing of this piece. And the fact that the hot shoe is totally not in use means that we can put a flash in there or Pocket Wizards.

Still though, by no means is this a bad camera. In fact, it’s a rather exceptional one. But it could have gone a tad further.

The EP5 can be purchased from B&H Photo, Adorama or Amazon.

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